Warlock II: The Exiled

After Paradox Interactive’s fun-loving, fantasy-filled 4x Warlock: Master of the Arcane became a surprise success it wasn’t long before fans of the game were delighted to learn that Paradox was producing a sequel.  Warlock II: The Exiled, which was released in 2014, brought improved performance, a greatly improved user interface, and new content to the burgeoning Warlock series.
The first thing that should be made clear about Warlock II is that it should be viewed more as an expansion than a sequel.  Warlock II contains tons of new content and new campaign modes but its foundation remains the same.  Players will recognize the graphics, mechanics, races, units, and terrain immediately.  This doesn’t in anyway detract from the enjoyment of Warlock II or its position as an improvement over its predecessor but it is important for players to avoid the potential disappointment of viewing Warlock II as a true sequel in the same vein as Age of Empires III or Warcraft III.
The story of Warlock II follows the narrative setup by the Armageddon DLC of Warlock.  This is reflected by a major change in the campaign layout.  Players now follow a linear progression of story quests and scripted events to return from the outland shards of the multiverse to Ardania where the United One, a Great Mage who successfully cast the Unity Spell, awaits to confront them.  All of the 4x elements of Warlock remain for this campaign mode (except the Unity Spell victory, which is not available in the campaign mode).  Players can explore the outland shards through portals by completing a quest to open a portal and sending units through to the new world.  Story quests can be completed at the player’s discretion allowing the player to explore all of the randomly generated shards before finally proceeding back to Ardania.
An alternative form of the campaign called Battle for Outlands mimics the outland shard environment of the campaign without the story quests turning it into true 4x freeform gameplay. Each shard is based off of a single terrain environment found in Warlock on Ardania and the various underworlds.  Several new terrain types were added to the previous underworlds of Warlock and seventeen shards can be found in a single game on the largest map size.  Each shard has enough room for three to four full sized cities, but this isn’t a serious problem with Warlock II’s new special city mechanic which allows players to convert unwanted cities into specialized minor cities that can produce gold, mana, or serve as fortresses.  These special cities only occupy the tiles immediately around them and do not count towards the game’s new city limit feature.  A city limit should seem unusual in a 4x game but it can be expanded through research and is sufficient for player needs in all but the largest maps.
All units, structures, spells, and great mage perks from Warlock return in Warlock II and are joined by two new races: the multi-racial Planestriders and the mechanically oriented Svarts.  The new races feature entirely new unit rosters and each brings two Great Mages to the usual selection of Great Mage profiles.  As with the previous races, the Planestriders and Svarts specialize in the production of certain resources and emphasize certain unit and damage types.  They blend in very well with the existing races and add greatly to the sandbox potential of mixing racial combos in large games.  Warlock II also adds several new Great Mage perks and starting spells; including ways to moderate the city limit and the possibility to select starting shards and even a spell that can summon a random lord for hire.  DLC has also been released providing more start locations, starting lords, and unique spells.
Perhaps one of the most notable changes in Warlock II is the enhancement of the spell research system.  In Warlock five low tier spells appeared randomly at the start of the game for the player to research.  Each spell would be replaced by a related, higher tier spell when it was researched.  Now spells have been divided into Sorcery, Wizardry, and Divine categories and further broken up into several tiers based on their cost and power.  Researching a certain number of spells in a category unlocks the next tier of spells for research giving the player much greater freedom to choose what spells to get and when.
Sadly, multiplayer has not seen much improvement since Warlock.  The campaign and Battle for Outlands modes are both compatible with Warlock II and, despite a buggy launch, are for the most part very stable.  However, the lingering lack of simultaneous turns, while appropriate for a 4x game that emphasizes combat, is a real damper for a game with limited demographic and economic micromanagement.  The additional fact that the interface is only somewhat successful at keeping track of units strung out across the many outland shards makes turns in the later game laborious as each player checks on their multiple worlds while the other players idly stand by.
Graphics requirements have not increased by any noticeable amount.  Machines and internet connections that handled Warlock should be able to just as easily manage Warlock II.  The voices and sound for the new units is a welcome addition to the existing cast.  Another minor change was the transition of several of the Great Mage’s expressions into fantasy languages.  This change certainly increased the flavor of encounters with other opponents, but considering the limited number of phrases utilized in diplomacy it can be a minor annoyance as the AI babbles random words at the player over and over.
Warlock II is a very appropriate follow on to Warlock.  Even though it lacks the all-encompassing content overhaul that marks a true sequel, Warlock II vastly improves on every feature of Warlock and fans of the first Warlock game, and the Majesty series of games in general, will certainly enjoy Warlock II.  The added content greatly increases replayability even for those gamers who have already exhausted Warlock as the new races, game modes, and content provide even more options for exploration and racial combos.  Perhaps the greatest mark of Warlock II’s triumph (and tragedy) as a follow-on is that after playing Warlock II, the original Warlock will appear too lackluster and uninteresting to revisit.